Five Wisdom Buddha

Five Wisdom Buddha

Five Wisdom Buddha
(Pancha Dhyani Buddha)

The Five Wisdom Buddhas or Pancha Dyani Buddha are the primordial Buddhas that represent the five Buddha families and purified manifestations of the five pearls of wisdom (pañca-jñāna) of the Dharmakaya Buddha. They are also known as the five Tathāgatas or Meditation Buddhas (Dhyani Buddha).

Similarly, they also represent the transformation of the five defilements (Kleshas) namely: Ignorance, Hatred, Desire, Pride, and Envy with their corresponding wisdom. Defilements are the states of mind that clouds judgment and manifests in unwholesome actions resulting in suffering. They act as hurdles or obstacles on the spiritual path.

Each Buddha is identified based on a color, direction, hand gesture (mudra), symbol or attribute, vehicle, and lineage of Bodhisattvas and consort. They are usually depicted in peaceful form, calm and compassionate, with Buddha-like attributes (uṣṇīṣa, elongated earlobes, wearing a robe and so on).

The five Tathāgatas are Akshobhya, Vairochana, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. They are central figures in the art and architecture of Vajrayana Buddhism. They are generally portrayed in Thangka paintings, mandalas, Stupas, and Chaityas.

Vairocana Buddha

In Sanskrit, Vairocana signifies “luminous” or “embodiment of light.” He is known as the “Universal Life Force,” the “Great Illuminating One,” and, most importantly, the “All-encompassing Buddha.” He represents the element, space, which symbolizes the limitless nature of Mind, which stands for infinite Compassion and Wisdom. He presides in the central direction. He is the head of  the Tathagathakuli (Buddha Family) and represents Tathatā-jñāna, the wisdom of “Dharmadhatu.”

Tathatā-jñāna is the universal foundation of the other four wisdoms and is also known as Dharmadhatu (the Realm of Truth, in which all things exist as they truly are), or non-conceptualizing knowledge of emptiness. He represents the aggregate form of consciousness (Vijnana), the state of being awake or aware of physical and mental processes. It is dependent on the other skandhas (form, sensation, perception, and mental formation) and does not exist independently. He converts the poison of ignorance into wisdom.

Iconographically, Vairochana Buddha is generally depicted as youthful and white in color, symbolizing pure consciousness, seated in the Vajra posture upon a lion (symbolizes courage and boldness) throne. His two hands are raised towards his heart in the Dharma teaching gesture (Dharmachakra mudra). He is usually depicted wearing a monastic robe with Buddha Appearance, his attribute or emblem is a wheel (Dharmachakra). His consort is Vajradhatvisvari. His main Bodhisattva is Samantabhadra, especially known for his Ten Great Vows.  The seed syllable of Vairochana is the universal sound Om.

Akshobhya Buddha

The word Akshobhya means “unshakable” or “immovable.” He represents the element, water, which represents dissolving aspects such as the dissolution of illusions and defilements. He resides in the East direction and is the Lord of the Vajrakuli (Vajra Family). He purifies the delusion of hatred and anger with the Ādarśa-jñāna, the wisdom of “Mirror-like Awareness.”

Ādarśa-jñāna is the wisdom devoid of all dualistic thought and exposes the true nature of all things by reflecting them calmly and without judgment. According to the Alayavijnana, this type of wisdom is a transformation of the eighth consciousness (Alaya: eternal consciousness that stores one’s karma from previous and current lifetime). He represents the aggregate of Form (Rupa) which is associated with the physical substance that is tangible or perceptible.

Akshobhya Buddha is typically depicted as a Buddha-like figure with blue body color, seated in vajrasana upon an elephant (symbol of strength) throne. He forms the bhumisparsha mudra, or the earth-touching gesture, with his right hand, and the left hand is held flat in the lap in the Dhyana mudra, or meditation gesture. His symbol is the Vajra, often known as the thunderbolt or diamond scepter.

The Vajra represents enlightenment, the indestructible nature of pure consciousness, or the essence of Reality. His consort is Locanā (blue), also referred to as the eye of wisdom. Similarly, Vajrapani is the main Bodhisattva of Akshobhya, generally known as the protector of Dharma. The seed syllable of Akshobhya is Hum.

Ratnasambhava Buddha

Ratnasambhava Buddha (the Jewel born) transforms the defilement (Klesha) of pride with his Samatā-jñāna, the wisdom of the “Awareness of equality.” The wisdom of the “Awareness of equality” perceives the sameness, the commonality of dharmas or phenomena.

This kind of wisdom is a transformation of the seventh consciousness, the Klistamanas (gathering the hindrances, poisons, and karmic formations). This wisdom enables one to see beyond all superficial distinctions and comprehend emptiness as the fundamental of all things. Such in-differentiation gives rise to equality for all beings. As a result, it is often referred to as the wisdom of equality or impartiality. Through his wisdom, he transforms the defilement of pride.

He belongs to Ratnakuli (Jewel Family) and presides in the South direction. He represents the element, earth, which is associated with the mindful study, that grounds oneself. He represents the aggregate form of vedana (Sensation). It refers to the physical or mental feeling resulting from something that comes into contact with the body, such as pain, pleasure, joy, excitement, outrage, etc. Mind or intellect plays a major role here.

His emblem is a jewel (Ratna), or Chintamani (wish-fulfilling jewel) which is supposed to grant all right desires.

He is generally presented in yellow color with jewel-like radiance and the characteristics of Buddha. He is portrayed seated in vajrasana upon a horse (represents liberation) throne. He forms the varada-mudra (boon-granting gesture of generosity) with his right hand. The five extended fingers in this mudra symbolize generosity, morality, patience, effort, and meditative concentration.  With his left hand, he forms the meditation gesture or Dhyana mudra. His consort is Mamaki, who fulfills ones’ desires.

Ratnapani is the main Bodhisattva of Ratnasambhava, known for his power of compassionate destruction. The seed syllable of Ratnasambhava is Tram.

Amitabha Buddha

Amitabha signifies “Infinite Light” in Sanskrit. His Pratyavekṣaṇa-jñāna, the wisdom of “Investigative Awareness” transmutes the defilement of desire. The wisdom of “Investigative Awareness” perceives the specificity and the uniqueness of Dharma. This type of wisdom is a transformation of the sixth consciousness (the mind) and is also known as the wisdom of specific knowledge or sublime investigation.

He is the head of the Padmakuli (Lotus Family) and his emblem is Padma or lotus flower which symbolizes purity. He rules over the element, fire, which represents the deep concentration that results in visualization and Samadhi.

He presides in the West direction and represents the aggregate form of samjna (perception). It is a mental impression regarding understanding or interpreting something, that puts all information together based on previous experience. It is related to the mental activity of recognition, conceptualization, and identification.

In anthropomorphic form, he is depicted red in color with various attributes of Buddha and seated in the Vajra posture upon the peacock (symbolizes grace) throne.

His right hand is placed over the left on his lap, with the palms facing upwards forming Dhyana mudra (gesture of meditation). He resides in the western land of unlimited bliss also known Sukhavati (as western paradise or).  Sukhavati is the Pure Land that is accessible to those who are on the path to enlightenment. His consort is Pandara or  Pāṇḍarāvasinī who is capable of extinguishing desires.

Padmapani is his main Bodhisattva, generally known as Bodhisattva of compassion. The seed syllable of Amitabha is Hrih.

Amoghasiddhi Buddha

Amoghasiddhi is known as the “Almighty Conqueror” and resides in the North direction. He represents the aggregate form of  Samskara (Mental formation) which refers to various actions or responses that are the outcomes of aggregate volition such as biases, prejudices, interests, attitudes, and actions.

Through the Kṛty-anuṣṭhāna-jñāna, the wisdom of “Accomplishing Activities,” he transforms the defilement of envy. The wisdom of “Accomplishing Activities” refers to the awareness that “spontaneously carries out all that has to be done for the welfare of beings, manifesting itself in all directions”. This type of wisdom is created through the transformation of the five sensory consciousness (viz; sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch).

He represents the element, air, the purifying aspect, such as the resolution of conflicts by raising self-awareness of harmful actions and improving one’s behavior. His symbol is the Vishvavajra, the double Vajra that symbolizes the highest comprehension of truth and the spiritual power of a Buddha. He is the patriarch of Karmakuli (Karma family) and presides in the North direction.

He is typically depicted green in color, with attributes of Buddha, like other Dhyani Buddhas. He sits in Vajra-posture upon the Garuda throne. With his raised right hand, he makes the Abhaya-mudra of fearlessness, and with his left hand resting upon his lap in the Dhyana-mudra of meditation.

Sometimes he is also depicted with a hood of serpents. His consort is Aryatara, who is capable of liberating all the sentient beings from Samsara. His main Bodhisattva is Visvapani, and the seed syllable is Ah.

Feature Photo Courtesy: Celestial Arts 


BUNCE,  W.F. (2016). An Encyclopedia of Buddhist Deities, Demigods, Godlings, Saints and Demons: With Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes (2 Volumes). D. K. PRINT WORLD PVT. LTD.
Standford History Class
Wisdomlib-Buddhism Book


Author: Meena Lama

I am an enthusiast of art, culture, heritage and history.

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